Eric Bailly has joined Manchester United from Villarreal on a four-year contract. The club has said the 22-year-old central defender's move to Old Trafford is contingent on him obtaining a work permit. Bailly's contract includes an option to extend for an additional two years.
Bailly is José Mourinho's first signing as United manager, aiming to build a team that can challenge for the Premier League title. Knowing Mourinho, it isn't surprising that he has opted to strengthen the team's defence as his first move.
"I want to progress to be the best that I can be and I believe working with Jose Mourinho will help me develop in the right way and at the right club," Bailly said after the announcement.
"I am looking forward to meeting my new team-mates and to starting this new chapter of my life," he added.
But the question doing the rounds for United fans and their rivals alike is — who exactly is Eric Bailly?
Here we look to answer those questions, taking a closer look at the Manchester club's latest recruit and what he can bring to the Premier League.
So, who exactly is Eric Bailly?
Eric Bertrand Bailly was born in Bingerville, Ivory Coast — the same place as Manchester City striker Wilfried Bony. He was scouted at the age of 17 by Espanyol's Emilio Montagut during a youth tournament organised by Spanish company Promoesport in Burkina Faso. However, due to work permit issues, it took 10 months before the defender could join the Spanish club. He made his first-team debut in October 2014 at the age of 20 — a La Liga match against Real Sociedad, which Espanyol won 2-0.
Within four months of Bailly's debut, he made a move to Villarreal for a bargain £4.4 million. The defender was bought to replace the then Arsenal-bound Gabriel Paulista. At Villareal, he quickly established himself as one of the club’s first-choice centre-halves, combining well with Victor Ruiz. He played a major part in the Yellow Submarine's top four-finish this year, conceding just 35 goals from 38 games.
Africa Cup of Nations winner in 2015
The defender from Ivory Coast helped his team lift the Africa Cup of Nations trophy in 2015, featuring in all six games in the tournament. Despite being the second-youngest player in the squad, Bailly delivered a commanding display in the final to help shut out Ghana, who had boasted the strongest attack in the competition. Bailly also coolly converted his penalty kick in the shoot-out as Ivory Coast won their first continental title in 23 years.
Where does he play?
Bailly is a powerful, pacy centreback with remarkable control of the ball. According to UEFA.com, Bailly frequently plays out from the back and looks to contribute to his team's supply line. He can fill in at full-back too given his speed and ball skills, though he is more at home in the heart of defence.
Against Real Madrid, Bailly provided a standout performance for Villareal. He displayed great versatility after being deployed at right back to mark Cristiano Ronaldo and later Gareth Bale and managed to keep them quiet despite suffering from a dislocated shoulder for much of the second-half. Villarreal eventually won the match 1-0.
What are his strengths and weaknesses?
The exciting young talent is fast, athletic and strong; making him a formidable presence in one-on-one situations. His positioning is solid — he averages 2.4 interceptions per game. He is versatile and has shown the ability to learn quickly. He is confident, aggressive and ambidextrous.
Bailly is considered to be a little raw and unpredictable. Like any young defender, he still has a lot to learn and there is a sense that United have invested in potential rather than a finished product.
Bailly's problems with on-field discipline is something that Mourinho would need to monitor. He received 10 yellow cards and one red in La Liga last season, but if he can learn to control his temper then he clearly has the tools to become a top player.
What can he bring to Manchester United and the Premier League?
Towering at 6 foot 1 inch and with an imposing style, Bailly should meet the physical demands of the Premier League. He is United's most expensive defender since Rio Ferdinand, and the Ivorian certainly shares the same level of confidence on the ball as the former England man. United have struggled to replace the brilliant Ferdinand- Nemanja Vidić partnership formed between 2006 and 2014, and they will hope that Bailly can forge a similar bond with Chris Smalling. Despite Daley Blind’s admirable efforts over the past nine months, Bailly and Smalling could provide Mourinho with a solid foundation to build his team on.
What do the experts say?
"His talent stood out straight away. Eric is strong, very strong. He was very aggressive, good in the air and could use both feet. He's fast and excellent in one-on-ones."
Manolo Márquez, former Espanyol B coach
"For me he's a spectacular player and I believe in his potential. He has all the tools to be an excellent player."
Sergio González, former Espanyol coach
"Bailly is a fast, tall, athletic and strong central defender, who is particularly good when faced with one-on-one situations. When in possession he likes to run out from the back with the ball and has even looked comfortable in these situations when he has played as a right-back for Villarreal, venturing forward and not looking out of place in attacking play."
Terry Gibson, former Manchester United forward and Sky Sports' La Liga expert
(With inputs from agencies)